Special Education Technology – British Columbia (SET-BC) was established in 1989 to provide assistive technology services for students with physical disabilities. The Special Education branch of the BC Ministry of Education considered the following trends when designing the purpose and structure of the program:
- students with special needs were being integrated into regular classrooms and participating in standard curriculum activities
- new technologies were being developed that allowed students with disabilities to participate more actively in their educational programs
- the Provincial Advisory Committee on Computers (1988), which investigated the use of technology in the school system, recommended that technology services for special education should be a priority.
Initially, SET-BC was funded as a pilot project and was staffed by professionals from both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. This program followed a prescriptive model, with SET-BC staff providing technology assessments and recommendations for educational programming for students.
Students with complex needs traveled from all areas of the province to Vancouver where SET-BC operated two transdisciplinary assessment centres. Community-based services were provided through two regional centres and a small outreach program.
By the second year of operation, BC school districts were placing increasing demand for services on SET-BC. While school districts only referred 44 students in its first year, the number had increased to 340 students in the second year. This rapid growth continued and by January 1993, school districts had referred approximately one thousand students with over eight hundred being accepted into the program.
After two years of operation, the Ministry of Education changed SET-BC’s pilot project status to the continuing status of a Provincial Resource Program. In order to keep pace with the demands for service, SET-BC undertook a shift in its approach, moving to a more collaborative and community-based model. More regional centres were established and SET-BC staff traveled throughout the province to provide services for districts and their students. Program staff also began to provide more training for school districts with the goal of increasing BC educators’ expertise in the use of assistive technology.
For two and a half decades, the goal of SET-BC’s service delivery model has been to build school district capacity to support students through the implementation of assistive technologies. Our service delivery model has evolved as district and school team needs have changed – eligibility for SET-BC services has expanded over the years beyond our original mandate but was limited to those students formally identified as dependent handicapped, deafblind, or having moderate to profound intellectual disability, physical or chronic health impairment, visual impairment, and autism and related disorders.
Until 2014, our core service delivery process and services had remained essentially the same. In essence, school district teams screened students that met the SET-BC mandate, prioritizing those students for whom the team wanted to receive SET-BC services. Once these students were identified, SET-BC consultants met with teams to determine what technology solution matched student and curricular needs. The SET-BC Provincial Loan Bank loaned the technology to the district for use with the students and our consultants trained one or more team members on its use and implementation. SET-BC provincial and regional consultants continued to support the use of the technology from year to year as the students advanced. This service delivery model was based almost exclusively on providing individual student technology solutions and individual team training and implementation support.
During the past two decades, school districts have expressed a need to have SET-BC services extend to include students outside our Ministry of Education mandate. To accommodate this, we stretched our services to include initiatives such as the Provincial Software Acquisition Plan (PSAP) and classroom-based technology projects. These, and similar initiatives, were very successful in expanding the impact of SET-BC services in BC classrooms around the province.
Program Service Delivery Evolution
In the spring of 2011, SET-BC undertook a formal program review to determine which of our services were valued by districts and which services districts would like us to provide moving forward. This review revealed several key issues which resulted in the evolution of our service delivery model that we currently follow. Briefly, these key issues included:
- the classroom environment has changed and students now have more access to mainstream and mobile technologies
- while districts were now providing classrooms with mainstream technologies, district teams did not feel they were in a position to acquire, manage or train staff on the complex technologies that very low incidence students would continue to require
- while continuing to support the needs of very low incident students, the SET-BC mandate needed to expand to include a wider variety of students who could benefit from using SET-BC loaned technologies
- the one-to-one service provision was helpful to individual teams each year but was not as effective as hoped in building overall district capacity to support the use of technology with students with diverse needs
- classroom-based technology solutions were implemented more effectively overall and improved inclusion of students with specific needs specifically
- districts identified a need for more professional development and training opportunities to build teacher and district capacity to utilize not only SET-BC loaned technologies but also technologies acquired by the districts themselves
As a result of these issues, the SET-BC service delivery model evolved to one that is more flexible and responsive to BC school district needs, is more integrated with the changing classroom environment, and better supports the Ministry of Education’s focus on personalized, universally designed for learning educational programming.
In the 2014-2015 school year, nine BC school districts piloted a new three-tiered service delivery model that parallels the Response to Intervention (RTI) model that many Learning Support Service teams are now implementing. The results of the pilot were very successful and the three-tiered model officially began for all BC school districts in September 2015.
The SET-BC program structure has been modified to better support the three-tiered model with geographically based service coordinators working from satellite offices providing more local support and the SET-BC Provincial Centre team continuing to provide provincial service delivery and loan bank coordination. SET-BC consultants, located in both geographically based locations and the Provincial Centre in Vancouver, now provide Tier 1 Professional Development, Tier 2 Training and Classroom-based Solution support and Tier 3 Individual Student-based Solution support.
By continuing to work in partnership, SET-BC and school districts make it possible for BC educators to access current and emerging technologies and to learn how to use them to support their students’ educational programs. This collaboration ensures the technology provided by SET-BC or acquired by the school district will support diversity in the classroom and improve individual student outcomes.